First up in our Back In Focus series is a look back to a visit to north Tipperary, where Agriland spoke to Paul Conway about his new sheep, calf and finishing shed.
The Tipperary native, who works full-time off-farm, runs three different systems on his 70ac farm – 50ac which are owned and 20ac which are rented.
Paul keeps a flock of 70 Belclare-cross ewes, alongside buying-in continental heifer weanlings with the purpose of finishing them at 24-26 months-of-age.
On top of that, he buys in 80 calves, which consist mainly of Belgian Blues and whiteheads during the springtime and then sells them on in the back end of the year as weanlings.
Paul took over the running of the farm from his father, Tom, in recent years when he retired and up until this winter, the main housing accommodation on the farm consisted of a three-bay double-sided slatted unit and an old dry shed, that has since been demolished to accommodate the new housing unit on the farm.
However, back in 2019, he decided that a new housing facility was needed, and last year he put a plan in place to build a new multipurpose shed that would both accommodate finishing cattle, his flock of ewes and suck calves.
A shed for both cattle and sheep
Paul said that he didn’t have proper facilties to carry and manage both cattle and sheep on his farm.
Speaking to Agriland, Paul said: “To be honest, I probably wasn’t set up properly to do what I wanted to do.
“I finish a lot of continental cattle and they would take up most of the original slatted unit on the farm; then I would have had older sheds which I would have used for the sheep and calves – which weren’t suitable really at all.
“So I wanted to build a unit that would allow me to lamb my ewes down in January and February and then turn it around and have it ready for calves that I buy-in around the start of March.
“I also decided to build two slatted pens as well just to further increase the space I have to keep more finishing cattle throughout the winter.”
The new unit lies where the old dry shed that used to house his flock of ewes and his bought-in calves, was located.
The slatted unit area measures 4.75m wide and 10.39m long. The two pens individually measure 4.75m wide and 5.195m long. The slatted tank is 2.4m deep.
The dry bedded part of the new unit measures 14.35m wide and 15.41m long. Two of the bays are 4.8m wide, while one measures 4.75m wide.
The new unit measures 7.21m to the apex and 5m to the eve gutters.
Paul designed the shed himself and after putting on paper what he wanted, he made contact with Billy Heffernan of O’Dwyer Steel, based in Co. Tipperary, who sourced and erected the shed for him.
Denis Armstrong and John Burke put in the tanks and stood the walls of the shed, while Vincent Lawlor and JJ Rusk did the concrete floor and the yard outside.
All of the concrete was supplied by Kellys of Fantane – where Paul himself works. The groundwork was carried out by John Young & Son Plant Hire.
Looking at the unit in more detail, at the front of the unit lies two slatted pens.
With a slatted unit already on the farm, Paul said that in order to have the chance to increase the number of cattle he could finish, he decided to put two slatted pens into the new shed.
The beauty of the way the new shed is laid out means if Paul ever decided to change system and perhaps go down the route of keeping suckler cows, the shed is set up nicely to accommodate such a change.
At the back of each pen is a small access door that leads into the dry bedded area of the new unit, where his bought-in calves currently reside.
Paul added: “Going forward at the minute, the two slatted pens will be used to house heifers for finishing.
“There’s room there to fit 18-20 heifers between the two pens, so it will take the pressure off the other slatted unit I have and also will allow me to keep a few more as well if I want.
“The beauty about having the slatted pens and then having the dry area at the back of them means, if I want in the future, I could go down the road of keeping cows and housing them in the slatted pens and having a calving and creep area at the back.
“When I was designing the shed, I wanted to have it in a way that I could keep my options open, rather than building a shed that could only be used solely for one purpose.”
Sheep and calf housing area
The main focus of this new unit, is the dry bedded area behind the slatted pens.
This is where Paul’s flock of ewes, going forward, will be housed in late November for lambing in early January and then will be home to bought-in calves around the beginning of March.
At the time of the visit, the dry bedded area of the new unit was home to 60 calves; however, Paul said that it has the capacity to hold up to 80 calves.
The current layout has pens set up against the wall of the shed leading into the slatted pens and at the back of the wall of the unit, with a middle passageway dividing the pens on either side.
There are six pens in total, with standard five-bar gates dividing each pen, except for one side where sheep feeding barriers, which are used when the ewes are in the shed, divide up pens on one side.
To keep both the bedding under the sheep and calves dry, the concrete floor is sloped, leading into the middle of the shed, in order for water/faeces to drain away (pictured below) into the slatted tank at the front of the shed, which Paul says has been working a treat so far.
There are two sliding doors incorporated into the design of the unit. One (pictured above) which leads into the main passageway, while the other is at the back of one of the calf pens (pictured below).
As you walk into the shed where the calves are housed, you can see two small doors on either side, which lead out to to a small field.
When the time comes, Paul plans to open one of the doors, to let calves come and go from the shed to the field as they please.
Furthermore, he hopes to install a handling unit for his sheep at the side of the unit, so that he can run his flock of ewes out one door, up the shute, and back into the shed through the other small door on the other side of the shed.
Speaking about the design of the shed and how he works housing his ewes and calves, Paul said: “I needed a shed where I could house both my ewes and calves and have it in a way where I could turn around the way the shed is laid out quickly, without any hassle.
“I lamb down early, generally in January and February. So, as well as having a shed I could use for a number of different things, I wanted one where I could make use of it for as much of the year as possible.
“So the plan is to house ewes in late November and have them all out and lambed sometime in February.
“Then I will come in and clean it out and rearrange how it is laid out and get it ready for the calves that I will be buying in.
“None of the posts that the gates will be hanging on will be fixed to the floor, so I will be able to take them out, come in with the tractor and front loader and clean it out quickly and set up the shed how I want it for the calves.
“It worked a treat this year for me. The ewes were housed a bit later than what I wanted but they were out early and in plenty of time to get the shed ready for the calves.”
‘Good ventilation is critical’
Having reared calves in a shed that Paul described as “not being ideal”, he said he wanted to make sure he built a shed that would allow calves to thrive.
He added: “I suppose the sheds we would have reared calves in in the past, were not great in terms of ventilation for one thing.
“The shed would have had a low roof and if one calf got sick, it would spread like wildfire.
“So when I was designing this shed, I made sure it had a good high roof and so that air could circulate freely around it.
“Between being able to open the sliding door, the vented sheeting, the gap between the roof and the sheeting and air coming in the side of the shed where the slatted pens are, it’s more than airy enough.
“In fact, I’m even thinking about putting up a windbreaker between the slatted pens and where the calves are currently.
“But, I can’t really complain, calves have been healthy thank god and, it’s never too warm or stuffy which is great.”
The new build took less than two months to complete, with everyone involved pulling together to get the job completed in time for Paul to house his flock of ewes in December 2020.
Paul was able to avail of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II) which saw him being eligible for a 60% grant.
This, along with being able to reclaim the VAT on the build, left him with a relatively inexpensive shed, which will be used for five/six months of the year.
The total cost of the shed,plus VAT amounted to €59,000.
However, when the value of the grant is deducted and the VAT is reclaimed, the shed is standing to Paul at €23,200.
Speaking about the new build and how it’s working out for him so far, Paul said: “It’s often the case where you build something and afterwards, when it’s done, you would love to go back and change something.
“Well in my case, it’s the opposite. I’m really happy with how it turned out and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
“On the other hand, if you said to me I could make a few small changes to the house I live in, I’d take your hand off,” Paul joked.
“It was built to suit how I farm here and so far, my first winter/spring in it, it has worked out perfectly so far.
“I wanted a multipurpose shed, that would house my sheep, calves and hold some finishing stock and that’s what I have now.”